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More than 36 Texans dead, nearly 500k without power as water crisis persists

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                People waited in near-freezing temperatures to fill water bottles and coolers with water from a public park spigot, today, in Houston. Houston and several surrounding cities are under a boil water notice as many residents are still without running water in their homes.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    People waited in near-freezing temperatures to fill water bottles and coolers with water from a public park spigot, today, in Houston. Houston and several surrounding cities are under a boil water notice as many residents are still without running water in their homes.

AUSTIN, Texas >> Power was restored to more Texans today, with fewer than a half-million homes remaining without electricity, and many still were without safe drinking water after winter storms wreaked havoc on the state’s power grid and utilities this week.

Meanwhile, the Appalachians, northern Maryland and southern Pennsylvania braced for heavy snow and ice. Snow fell in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York.

Little Rock, Arkansas, got 15 inches of snow in back-to-back storms, tying a 1918 record, the National Weather Service said.

More than 320,000 homes and businesses were without power in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. In Tennessee, 12 people were rescued from boats after a dock weighed down by snow and ice collapsed on the Cumberland River on Wednesday night, the Nashville Fire Department said.

The extreme weather has been blamed for the deaths of more than three dozen people, some of whom perished while struggling to keep warm. In the Houston area, one family succumbed to carbon monoxide from car exhaust in their garage. A woman and her three grandchildren died in a fire that authorities said might have been caused by a fireplace they were using.

In Texas, just under 500,000 homes and businesses remained without power, down from about 3 million on Wednesday. The state’s grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said the remaining outages are largely weather-related, rather than forced outages that were made early Monday to stabilize the power grid.

“We will keep working around the clock until every single customer has their power back on,” said ERCOT Senior Director of System Operations Dan Woodfin.

Adding to the misery, the weather jeopardized the state’s drinking water systems.

Texas officials ordered 7 million people — a quarter of the population of the nation’s second-largest state — to boil tap water before drinking it, following days of record low temperatures that damaged infrastructure and froze pipes.

Some Austin hospitals faced a loss in water pressure and heat.

“Because this is a state-wide emergency situation that is also impacting other hospitals within the Austin area, no one hospital currently has the capacity to accept transport of a large number of patients,” said David Huffstutler, CEO of St. David’s South Austin Medical Center.

Water pressure has fallen because lines have frozen, and many people left faucets dripping in hopes of preventing pipes from icing over, said Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Gov. Greg Abbott urged residents to shut off water to their homes, if possible, to prevent more busted pipes and preserve pressure in municipal systems.

Weather-related outages also struck Oregon, where some customers have been without power for almost a week. A Portland supermarket threw its perishable food into dumpsters, leading to a clash between scavengers and police.

The damage to the power system was the worst in 40 years, said Maria Pope, CEO of Portland General Electric. At the peak of the storm, more than 350,000 customers in the Portland area were in the dark. More than 100,000 customers remained without power today in Oregon.

“These are the most dangerous conditions we’ve ever seen in the history of PGE,” said Dale Goodman, director of utility operations, who declined to predict when all customers would have power restored.

Utilities from Minnesota to Texas have implemented rolling blackouts to ease the burden on strained power grids. Southwest Power Pool, a group of utilities covering 14 states from the Dakotas to the Texas Panhandle, said rolling blackouts were no longer needed but asked customers to conserve energy until at least 10 p.m. Saturday.

The weather also disrupted water systems in several Southern cities, including New Orleans and Shreveport, Louisiana, where fire trucks delivered water to hospitals and bottled water was being brought in for patients and staff, Shreveport television station KSLA reported.

Power was cut to a New Orleans facility that pumps drinking water from the Mississippi River. A spokeswoman for the Sewerage and Water Board said on-site generators were used until electricity was restored.

In the southwest Louisiana city of Lake Charles, Mayor Nic Hunter said Wednesday that water reserves remained low and hospitals might have to transfer patients to other areas.

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